Have you ever noticed the way that young children make friends? The social life for a two year old is relatively simple; a two year old becomes friends with another two year old because their parents are friends. What about in early grade school? Again the social life is relatively simple; kids become friends with other kids because they go to school together or they live in the same neighborhood. But something happens around the time of middle school and this all begins to change.
What is it about junior high students that changes this simple social dynamic into the complex social relationships that we see in teenagers? During the middle school years not only are these students physically changing, but relationally the way they go about making friends is also beginning to change. These relational changes are often most clearly manifested when old friends have hurt feelings and parents are trying to restore these broken friendhsips.
During childhood friendships are based primarily on proximity. Children become friends with the other children that they spend time with. On the other hand, sometime around the time of middle school these relationships go through a shift slowly moving towards the types of relationships that you and I are most familiar with; friendships based on affinity. No longer are friendships purely based on the simple fact that they go to the same school, but now they are based on some common interests. Pre-teens begin to form friends based on the fact that they like the same music, play the same sports, or enjoy being a part of the same youth ministry. This can be both an exciting part of middle school and a difficult one. It can be exciting for the student making new friends based on their similar interests. At the same time, however, it can be incredibly difficult for the young student who no longer shares a common interest with one of their childhood friends.
Where have you seen this shift in your experience with middle schoolers?
Photo Credit: Daniel Rossi